Old county hall and court, Caernarfon


Old county hall and court, Caernarfon

Photo of frontage of Caernarfon county hall in 1950
The county hall in 1950, courtesy
of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

A shire hall (administrative centre for the county) has stood in this vicinity since the late 13th century. The current grand frontage dates from the hall’s rebuilding in 1863, designed by county surveyor John Thomas.

As well as being the shire or county hall, the building had a petty sessions court and a domed courtroom for the assizes and quarter sessions. The police station was adjacent and the jail behind, enabling suspects to be held and tried on the same site. The entrance to the witness room in the basement was beside the police station but was blocked as pavement level rose over the years.

Look up to the top of the frontage to see the figure of Blind Justice by Robert Evans, a “carver of wood and stone” who had moved from Flintshire to Menai Bridge. He was in court himself in 1878, fined 20 shillings for drunkenness!

In the entrance hall are plaques honouring the dead of the First and Second World Wars, and a 1904 plaque for the county’s men who served in the South African War (1899-1902).

Photo of Caernarfon assizes court in 1950
The assizes court in 1950, courtesy of the RCAHMW and its Coflein website

In 1936 pacifists Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine made speeches from the dock here in their trial for setting fire to the RAF Penrhos training base. The speeches were published as pamphlets by Plaid Cymru, which the men had earlier helped to found in Pwllheli. The Caernarfon jury failed to reach a decision, but both men were later convicted at London’s Old Bailey.

The last quarter sessions was held here in December 1971, replaced by Caernarfon Crown Court in the justice system’s modernisation. The petty sessions court became the magistrates’ court.

The old photos, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales, are from the National Monuments Record of Wales and show the frontage and assizes court in 1950.

The crown court moved to the new justice centre, on Llanberis Road, in 2009. Musician Moira Hartley renovated the building and opened it as the Old Courthouse restaurant and Courthouse Theatre, with a bar in the former witness room. She has played cello in many musicals. Her work as a rock and pop examiner for Trinity College, London, has taken her to various countries, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

With thanks to Moira Hartley and  Caernarfon Civic Society

Postcode: LL55 2AY    View Location Map

Website of the Old Courthouse restaurant (Facebook)

Copies of the old photos and other images are available from the RCAHMW. Contact: nmr.wales@rcahmw.gov.uk